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U.S. national team in high spirits as sensational 2013 draws to a close

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GLASGOW — Laughing and joking around on a cold, blustery November morning on the outskirts of Glasgow, all is well with the U.S. national team.

And why shouldn’t it be?

They’re coming off the back of one of their best ever international seasons under Jurgen Klinsmann’s tutelage, losing just three times during 21 games so far in 2013, going on a record-breaking 12-game winning streak, qualifying at a canter for the 2014 World Cup,  currently ranked 13th in the world and have arguably the strongest player pool the USMNT has ever had. Life is good for fans of the U.S.

Friendlies against Scotland on Friday (watch live on ESPN, 3pm ET) and Austria next Tuesday (2:45pm ET, live on NBCSN) close out an incredibly successful year. Being up close and personal with the squad, you can tell the players are enjoying themselves as they train in Scotland. A large group playing a possession game erupt into giggles and whoops of delight on numerous occasions early on in Tuesday’s morning session. Life is good for the national side.

“This team has always been about the collective group,” AS Roma midfielder Michael Bradley said. “We’ve always had a team that no matter who is available on a given day, no matter who is there, they’re going to step on the field and be committed to putting a performance in that really reflects the group and makes everyone proud.”

(MORE: Exclusive – U.S. ‘keeper Tim Howard agrees governing bodies can help with head injuries)

That large squad Bradley speaks of has been evident over the past six months as Klinsmann’s project has cranked up a notch. A Gold Cup win over the summer with mostly MLS players and young European and Liga MX hopefuls showed just how deep the USMNT are.

source: Getty Images
Tim Howard and Michael Bradley both agree this USMNT is thriving thanks to great spirit and togetherness.

One of those player who used clutch performances in the USA’s Gold Cup success to propel himself into the forefront of Klinsmann’s plans was Seattle Sounders striker Eddie Johnson. Speaking after training on Tuesday, the 29-year-old forward believes a strong feeling of togetherness is helping all USMNT players to get better.

“There are a lot of familiar faces, a lot of the guys who’ve been in the qualifying rounds, friendlies, Gold Cup, so we’re all used to playing with each other,” Johnson said. “The more we can have familiar faces, the better understanding and camaraderie we have as a national team on the field and getting better. This is a good test for us, two good games and every player here is eager to do themselves justice as far as putting themselves in a good position to end 2013, as well as put themselves in a good position to be selected for the World Cup.”

That team spirit is something Bradley, a stalwart for the U.S. in central midfield and perhaps the first name on Klinsmann’s team sheet, also alluded to.

“It’s a special group to be a part of,” Bradley said. “In the way with the team spirit and the way we get on with each other. When you look at the calendar, there’s not a lot of games left between now and the World Cup. We’re looking to use every chance that we get to move ourselves up the ladder.”

With big things expected at Brazil 2014 after breezing through qualifying and beating the likes of Germany, Bosnia and Italy in friendlies over the last few years, I asked U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard if this was the best USMNT team he’s ever played on. The Everton star paused and gave a glowing appraisal of the current roster.

“This is the most diverse,” Howard said. “I’ve played on some good U.S. teams, particularly when I was younger. This team has a lot of diversity in both age and background, I just think the best thing about this team so far is the balance. We’ve got the best balance, we’ve got depth in a lot of positions, we’ve got people who play in lots of different countries, we’ve got some olds and youngs. The balance is very good, the chemistry is very good.”

Reports say Wambach entering the fields of broadcasting, reporting

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CA - FEBRUARY 02:  America soccer player and two-time Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach  attends the 2016 MAKERS Conference Day 2 at the Terrenea Resort on February 2, 2016 in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for AOL)
Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for AOL
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She’s dipped her toes into the pool during the FIFA elections, and now USWNT soccer legend Abby Wambach may have found her second career.

The all-time leading goal scorer in international competition, Wambach will be branching into the media field.

[ UCL: Pellegrini hails road record | Ronaldo in ]

The Associated Press’ Anne M. Peterson says it’ll be as an analyst and contributor, while Sports Illustrated media mastermind Richard Deitsch expects her to dig a bit deeper into the reporting world.

Many athletes have succeeded in becoming broadcasters, but true reporting is a different animal. This will be an interesting story to follow.

Wambach’s name was in the news earlier this year when she plead guilty for a DUII charge. She retired from the playing field in December.

FA seeks eye-gouging ban for Dembele of more than 3 games

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on May 02, 2016 in London, England.
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association wants Tottenham midfielder Mousa Dembele banned for more than three matches for an apparent eye-gouge on Chelsea striker Diego Costa.

The FA retrospectively charged Dembele with violent conduct on Wednesday after the incident was missed by the match officials in Monday’s 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.

The FA says “the standard punishment of three matches that would otherwise apply is clearly insufficient.”

[ UCL: Pellegrini hails road record | Ronaldo in ]

Dembele has until Thursday to respond to the charge.

Both Tottenham and Chelsea have also been charged with three breaches of FA regulations for “failing to control their players and/or officials.”

The teams have until Monday to respond.

The draw ended second-place Tottenham’s title challenge.

How big of an upset would it be if Man City beats Real Madrid in the UCL?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  The Manchester City squad warm up during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City at the Academy Training Ground on May 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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Couple questions for you this fine Wednesday:

  1. Winning at the Bernabeu is no easy task, but would it genuinely be a massive upset if Man City takes down Real Madrid today?
  2. Even putting aside that a scoring draw would do the trick, are we sure the hype is matching up with realism here?

There’s obviously the “Combined XI” test, a flawed proposition that does provide some level of comparison nonetheless. Given the absences of David Silva and Pablo Zabaleta, Real’s depth shines here.

[ MORE: Pellegrini hails road record | Ronaldo in ]

The goalkeepers are both World Cup caliber backstops, and there’s not much difference in quality — if any — between Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas and England mainstay Joe Hart.

And while Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure are very much in the ballpark — on their day — with Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos, there are real gulfs in attacking and defending power between the clubs (especially with David Silva out for Man City).

Even in the final four of a major tournament like this, there’s a gap between both of these sides at both ends of the pitch. Even ignoring Cristiano Ronaldo which, come on, you’re looking at James Rodriguez, Isco (doubtful to play) and others.

The back line of Man City has taken injury hits, and Real’s back four might well carry any XI (especially while Vincent Kompany isn’t in peak condition). While Madrid’s backs run hot, they also can run wild. Sergio Ramos and Marcelo are upper echelon pieces.

There’s a significant edge in Manuel Pellegrini versus Zinedine Zidane, and tactically we can expect City to continue implementing its system well against Real Madrid’s 4-3-3. Forcing Real wide on the attack can work well, especially if Karim Benzema is unable to play and punish the interior in the air.

[ PL PLAYBACK: What does Leicester’s title say for the future? ]

We think it would genuinely be a surprise if City were to pull off a win, but no bigger a surprise than what Atletico Madrid pulled off once Antoine Griezmann hit his magnificent counter attack goal yesterday in Munich.

What say you?

FIFA prosecutors want life ban for Webb in bribery case

Sepp Blatter & Jeffrey Webb, FIFA
Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP, File
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA ethics prosecutors want a life ban imposed on former FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in the United States.

The judging chamber of the FIFA ethics committee says it opened proceedings against Webb and will consider a verdict.

The ethics committee says it got a final investigation report last week from FIFA prosecutors.

[ PL PLAYBACK: What does Leicester’s title say for the future? ]

In November, Webb admitted to taking bribes worth millions of dollars linked to commercial rights for international soccer tournaments.

The former Cayman Islands banker should be sentenced in federal court in Brooklyn next month. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Webb was president of the CONCACAF soccer body when he was arrested on May 27 at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.